A good first job out of college lays the foundation for a lifetime of career success — but low-income and first-generation students have long faced barriers to getting those jobs.

A study by the Brookings Institution showed that in their first jobs, these college graduates earn 66 cents for every dollar earned by high-income graduates from the same schools. That drops to 50 cents in mid-career, and by late in their careers they’re likely to earn less than a high-income student who has only a high school diploma.     

Aimée Eubanks Davis founded the nonprofit Braven in 2013 to close that gap. In the (now virtual) Braven Accelerator, a rigorous for-credit class offered by Braven’s four partner institutions, including National-Louis University in Chicago, undergraduate Braven Fellows work with leadership coaches on skills like interviewing and résumé writing. They also master “intangibles,” like confidence and leadership, that can help them land strong first jobs and place them on an upward career trajectory.

Leadership coaches, who are young professionals themselves, help Fellows build a network; after graduation, Fellows receive mentoring as well as access to internships and job referrals with Braven employer partners like Prudential and Google.

The program gets results: before COVID-19 impacted the job market, nearly 70% of Braven Fellows were earning as much as high-income graduates. And within five semesters after graduating, close to half were out-earning their parents.

UChicago began a comprehensive partnership with Braven in 2017 as Braven prepared to launch its Chicago program at National-Louis. Meredith Daw, executive director of UChicago Career Advancement, serves on Braven’s Chicago board of directors and says that Braven and UChicago “share a fundamental commitment to helping low-income and first-generation students achieve career success.”

“That’s why we’re proud to partner with them on breaking down barriers to success for these students," said Daw. "We share best practices in undergraduate career education that we’ve learned at UChicago, and Braven provides meaningful job and internship experiences for UChicago students, who in turn have an opportunity to help Braven support students throughout the country.”

Two Braven Fellows have interned at UChicago Career Advancement, and six UChicago students have interned at Braven as part of the Jeff Metcalf Internship Program, completing substantive projects that gave the students valuable real-world experience while helping Braven expand its reach during the COVID-19 crisis. Braven’s partnership with Career Advancement also includes an experiential learning challenge in fall 2020, which will team UChicago students with Braven Fellows as they propose strategies to achieve greater educational outcomes through public policy. By testing their creativity, innovation, and presentation, the challenge will prepare both UChicago and Braven students for the bright careers ahead of them.

In the summer of 2020, UChicago interns helped implement and market Braven’s new Career Booster: a nationwide, virtual two-week jump-start for graduating seniors and recent graduates who are entering the difficult 2020 job market. To date, more than 57,000 students have access to the program.

In 2020, a graduate intern from the Harris School of Public Policy researched potential public funding pathways and other policy issues germane to Braven’s work. And Braven also welcomed a UChicago Kimpton Fellow in 2020: During his year-long fellowship, Kuba Sokolowski is designing and implementing systems for recruiting, onboarding and retaining volunteers, and will help Braven expand its university and employer partnerships.

“We are so grateful for our partnership with the University of Chicago,” said Davis. “Braven has benefited from the incredible expertise and advice of Meredith Daw, who sits on our Chicago board, as well as the expertise of a Kimpton Fellow and several interns we hosted this summer that positively influenced our brand, policy, and scale goals. Additionally, UChicago has opened doors for our Fellows and enabled them to grow their networks through internships and a sponsored session at our Summit. These efforts have helped more Chicago Braven Fellows get on the path to strong first jobs and economic mobility.”

Click here to see Braven's Annual Impact Report.

Back to Profiles
More profiles